- IMD Business School

Courageous leadership is needed now to address systemic challenges

The decisions and actions leaders make have a dramatic impact on shaping organizations and directing societal and environmental outcomes. At the 7th Global Female Leaders summit in Berlin, Dr Katharina Lange, Affiliate Professor of Leadership at IMD, explained the crucial components of courage.
May 2022

We are living in an era of geopolitical fragility. Democratic principles and liberal values are under threat. Maintaining a value-based society requires courage – from all of us.

 - IMD Business School

Every day, we are encouraged to stand up for what is important to us as a society and to speak up when our shared values are infringed. Leaders need to decide what they stand for and what they stand up against. Courage – civil courage – can come in small, unassuming forms. Courage does not have to be loud and roaring to be effective and impactful.

Courage has three components

Courageous leaders are guided by self-transcendent values. These values motivate actions that go beyond one`s own self-interests. Courageous leaders think and act with the greater good in mind, they are generous, seek fairness, and act with respect and integrity. Our heroes embody these values – and we love them regardless of their success or failure, because they stand up for “what is right”.

Perception of risk. Courageous leaders are neither naïve nor reckless. They are aware of the risk and they take failure into account. They are aware that initiating innovation bears risks. Standing up for what is important and standing up against what is wrong, bears a lot of risks. Resisting the majority opinion and daring to think differently is a (civil) courage we need more of.

Lastly, courageous people actively choose to take initiative. To be courageous is to actively decide to act, to resist, to challenge the status quo, to spark creativity and to stand up for your own values. Courageous people decide not to be a victim or be passive.

Courageous people – in formal leadership roles or not – perceive the risks, and they also see what is at stake, and they decide to do something about it.

Courageous leaders are interested in doing well by doing good. With the public demanding a kinder form of capitalism, organizations are being urged to focus on outcomes that are good for society, such as more environmentally friendly production or higher employment. Surmounting these problems will require leaders to balance collective interests with their own corporate aims.


Research Information & Knowledge Hub for additional information on IMD publications

Discover our latest research
IMD's faculty and research teams publish articles, case studies, books and reports on a wide range of topics